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Church reaches out to welcome all

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church hosts first PRIDE Sunday on June 30

BRATTLEBORO—A flag facing Putney Road, its bands of rainbow color vivid against brown brick, hangs from the exterior of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.

As part of June’s PRIDE month, the church will host its first “PRIDE Sunday: Celebrating God’s Diversity” on June 30.

“We’re saying the words, You’re welcome as you are,” said parishioner and planning team member Christopher Wesolowski.

The purpose of the PRIDE Sunday service is twofold, organizers say. First, the church wants to celebrate its members, many of whom actively serve the congregation and are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or questioning.

The congregation also wants to invite members of the wider LGBTQ community into an affirming space where they’re free to explore larger spiritual questions.

It is important that those identifying as LGBTQ seeking a spiritual community find a welcoming one, he said.

“Historically, churches have been our enemy,” said Wesolowski. “[The correlation becomes] if the church rejects us, then God rejects us.”

Traditionally, churches have rejected the LGBTQ community with labels such as “intrinsically morally disordered,” said Wesolowski.

Wesolowski grew up in the Catholic Church, but said he left it over the denomination’s views against homosexuality. He said it finally dawned on him, “I’m not welcomed here.”

“[Saint Michael’s] is an example of a church after the conversation [about whether to welcome LGBTQ-identified people] is over,” said Paul Moberly, parishioner and planning team member.

There was a time when many within the Episcopal Church were unhappy with women becoming bishops.

Later, people were unhappy with openly LGBTQ-identified people becoming bishops. But they moved on from that unhappiness and, at least in Vermont, into a full inclusion of all genders and and sexual identities, said Moberly.

A number of gay couples call St. Michael’s their congregation, said Moberly.

It’s easy to assume that the church welcomes those in the LGBTQ community “seeking a friendly church home,” he said. But, hanging the rainbow flag tells the whole community that the church’s doors stand open.

Moberly said that when he was 12 he witnessed members of his Midwestern childhood church vote to expel a homosexual man.

The experience served as a negative “cautionary tale,” he said.

Moberly said the common message about homosexuality and the church comes from the conservative, evangelical side of the political spectrum. He said he feels responsible to tell the “progressive church’s” side of the conversation.

What hooks Wesolowski’s heart as a religious person is the part of his faith that asks him to “respect the worth and dignity of every person.”

This practice helps guide how Wesolowski lives in the world.

If respecting another’s dignity is how we want to live, then PRIDE Sunday is the congregation’s way of putting its money where its mouth is.

On June 30, the 8 and 10:15 a.m. services will reflect “the joy of our diversity as human beings.” Moberly and Wesolowski will lead a special forum called “Sexuality and Spirituality: Celebrate the Link” at 9 a.m.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #209 (Wednesday, June 26, 2013).

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